People appalled by corruption bill, Romanian President says

Story highlights

  • Klaus Iohannis said too little had been done too late over the controversial measure
  • Members of the government walked out of the chamber during address to Parliament

(CNN)The President of Romania has attacked the country's government in a speech in Parliament, saying "Romanians are appalled" over the corruption bill scandal that has rocked the country in recent days.

President Klaus Iohannis said it is time for Romania to decide whether it wants to be a "strong prosperous" nation or a "weak despised one" -- and he called for a referendum so the people can have their say.
    Half a million citizens took to the streets on Sunday in the largest of a series of demonstrations over a bill that would have protected many politicians from being prosecuted for corruption.
    The Social Democrat-led government announced that day in a statement that it was repealing the decree, which had been approved last week without input from Parliament.
    However, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu indicated that he still planned to push through the amendments to the criminal codes via legislation that would be put to Parliament for approval.
    Protests continued over the issue Monday night -- albeit on a smaller scale -- with calls for the government to be removed.

    'Transparent government'

    In his speech on Tuesday, Iohannis, a former National Liberal Party politician, said withdrawing the decree is too little.
    Although he stopped short of calling for a fresh election, he told members of the center-left government, which has been in power since December, "Your first worry was to take care of the files of the convicted (politicians). Romanians are appalled.
    "The withdrawal of Ordnance 13 is too little. Early elections, at this point, is too much. Who needs to come up with a solution? The Social Democrats, as they created the problem."
    At this point, members of the governing coalition -- made up of the Social Democrats and a smaller party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, walked out of the room.
    "Are you already tired?" asked the President.
    "Too bad. Romania needs a strong government, a transparent one, whose governing is predictable, done in broad daylight, not stealthily at night."
    Romanian President Klaus Iohannis condemned the government during his speech in parliament.
    He went on to ask, "What kind of nation do we want to be? Do we want to be a strong, prosperous one, which builds a rule of law and respects it, where justice is strong and independent? Or do we want to be a weak nation, despised, which risks everything to save a few from difficult times?"
    This, he said, would be the "question and the purpose" of a referendum, which would "really find out the will of the Romanian people."

    Demonstrations continue

    Around 25,000 demonstrators gathered in Victory Square, Bucharest, on Monday evening and around 20,000 elsewhere in the country, according to estimates by the Romanian media. Although they turned out in far smaller numbers than Sunday, they continued to call for the government to resign.
    A counter-demonstration with about 3,000 people gathered outside the presidential palace in support of the government, calling for Iohannis to resign.
    Protests continued in Bucharest on Monday evening - this demonstrator's sign calls for the president to quit.
    Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Vlad Mixich, a Romanian journalist and political commentator, said of the President's address to Parliament, "He talked mainly to the people who protested in the last week in the streets. I think it was important for him to do that.
    "This was one of the biggest protests in Romania since (the fall of communism in) 1989. So he had to speak directly to those people who were in the streets to protest even if the protesters don't perceive the President as their leader"."
    Mixich said the referendum suggested by the President "would be a symbolic gesture. One of the type that politicians love so much -- it will keep this topic on the table."

    A brighter future

    "The protests won't stop until some of the ministers will quit their jobs. We've had enough of them," said Bianca Dumitru, 25, a sports journalist who joined protests in her home town of Brasov, central Romania.
      "The last week was incredible for the whole country. We got so united and motivated that we have to thank the government for this. But I think it's time for them to let us enjoy the victory and live in a prosperous environment, with a bright future ahead."
      Parliament is due on Wednesday to debate a censure motion submitted by the opposition in a bid to remove the government from office. This is not expected to succeed, as the coalition holds a majority in the legislative body.